Rock Hill's culinary scene has long existed in the shadow of its nearby big-city sister, Charlotte. The 2016 opening of The Pump House might just be the catalyst that launches this York County suburb's status as a foodie destination.
Standing sentinel on the banks of the Catawba River, the five-story eatery is as visually commanding as the spectacle sunsets you'll ooh and aah over from its rooftop bar. The architecture and interior design of the monolithic structure melds the town's industrial past with the hip ambiance of the evolving Riverwalk shopping district and residential community.
Once the pump house for a now-defunct chemical plant, the building was more eyesore than monument to better economic times. A trio of local businessmen/restaurateurs, however, looked at the dilapidation and saw potential glory. Sinking thousands of untold dollars into the project resulted in twice the original space and a unique destination catering to local palates as well as those seeking a refined Southern dining experience.
A glass elevator hoists the hungry to the main dining room and bar on the third floor, with overflow seating sometimes directed to a fourth floor dining area used for private events. Throughout the restaurant, the industrial feel is softened by rustic appointments, such as walls of antique pine salvaged from a Greenville textile mill and shadow boxes displaying Catawba Indian artwork. A 14-foot temperature-controlled wine cellar, holding more than 900 bottles, climbs the length of a back wall. Its handcrafted gliding wood and glass doors make it a handsome focal point.
Views of the Catawba abound, but for the best access, choose to dine on the covered balcony or head to the rooftop where there are two outdoor areas to enjoy - one with a fireplace for cooler weather - as well an inviting indoor bar. Full-service dining is available at this first-come, first-served acropolis. Feel free, though, to just sit back, watch a game on the big screen and indulge in your favorite craft beer, wine or house-created cocktail, such as the River Walk Mule-Shine, a Moscow Mule made with moonshine, cider, ginger beer and freshly squeezed lime.
No matter where you settle in, expect top-notch service. General Manager Christopher Johnson explained that attention to detail did not begin and end with the kitchen and décor. The attentive, professional wait staff is ready with recommendations and can answer any question you have about the menu, right down to listing ingredients.
And ingredients are a key ingredient in the burgeoning success of The Pump House. Executive Chef Michael Griswold created a menu that's heavy on products from the Carolinas. A delicious example is the Hickory Nut Gap Pork Chop, featuring meat sourced from a North Carolina farm, Fort Mill peaches and Anson Mills grits.
"I change the menu frequently, according to what's available," he said. "I work with local farmers who say, ‘Tell me what you want, and I'll grow it.'"
To start your meal, try the fried green tomatoes dressed in a crispy cracker coating and a slathering of warm pimento cheese. The wedge salad is a traditional offering that, unlike some versions, doesn't skimp on its tasty components: tangy gorgonzola, sugary grape tomatoes, a smoky poblano ranch dressing and plenty of crunchy bacon. Yum.
In addition to the pork chop, there's fresh trout layered with crabmeat, grilled salmon, filet mignon, chicken confit and a nice interpretation of shrimp and grits, among other offerings.
Finish with a light and refreshing fresh fruit sorbet. For something a little richer, the Cheerwine Chocolate Cake, made from almonds and served with a tart cherry compote, is a must for chocolate lovers. A peach shortcake spiked with ginger and served with a side of peach ice cream is surprisingly light, putting a new spin on an old Southern favorite.
The Pump House does lunch and Sunday brunch, too. For a mid-day meal, sink your teeth into a freshly ground steak burger or the Fried Sweet Tea Chicken Sandwich. You can get that same delectable sweet tea chicken by ordering the brunch-only Chicken and Waffles drizzled with a spicy syrup.
Reservations are highly recommended, so plan ahead unless you don't mind a wait or are willing to try your luck snagging a spot on the rooftop.